Santa Ana distillery is making hand sanitizer instead of booze during coronavirus

Dirty Bird Hand Sanitizer is being produced and sold by Blinking Owl Distillery in Santa Ana, Calif. Photo Courtesy of @blinkingowl via Instagram

A little over a month ago, Blinking Owl Distillery stayed busy bottling its signature vodka, gin and Scandinavian-style aquavit. Today, Santa Ana’s only spirits producer is bottling about 4,000 gallons of hand sanitizer a week — most of which is being donated directly to medical centers across Orange County. 

When the Barrio Logan-based distillery faced closure as a non-essential business last month, co-founder and CFO Robin Christenson spent nights lying awake, thinking about what she and her husband could do to keep their company afloat. She saw how other distilleries were pivoting their alcohol production towards a new end product and knew Blinking Owl could do the same.  

“We already made sanitizer for our own use, but I wasn’t sure about the legal stuff for distributing it, so our first step was figuring out if we could,” Christenson said. 

It turns out the answer was yes, so she contacted her business partner, Criminal Minds actress Kirsten Vangsness, who fronted the needed $60,000 to get production moving. 

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The result, Dirty Bird Hand Sanitizer, is an 80% alcohol solution, which exceeds the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation effectiveness level of at least 60% alcohol.

While Christenson said she is selling small quantities of the hard-to-find product on the company’s website, almost all the production is being donated directly to medical centers, first responders and restaurants that are relying on take-out service to stay open.

The city of Santa Ana has been one of the largest buyers so far, but donations have also been made to medical facilities in the region like Cedars Sinai Marina Del Rey and CHOC Hospital. They’ve also received requests from the city of Anaheim, Amazon, Aldi and local Tesla dealerships. 

Blinking Owl received about $4,000 in supply donations such as labels and bottles, and another $3,500 in financial contributions, which has allowed them to donate over $10,000 of product in the first two weeks alone. in the beginning, they produced 2,000 gallons per week, but it has now doubled to 4,000. 

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Donations aren’t the only things pouring in — people are making personal orders too. Blinking Owl also releases roughly 200 16-ounce bottles for sale online each week. The first week they were sold out in 20 minutes, and the following week in only 13. The large majority of their sanitizer comes in one-gallon bottles and 55-gallon drums, ready for industrial use.

In addition to providing a needed resource in seemingly short supply, Dirty Bird is also giving their employees the opportunity to keep their jobs.

Chloe Bell, who was at the entrance bouncing between answering questions for customers, packing orders, and answering calls said she is happy to still be working.

“It’s pretty much saved all of us,” Bell said. “We get to be back at work, we’re helping the community, and it’s just a really positive thing.”

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